Barber To Beauty

“I have no problem with whatever the next big look is. Just don’t try and tell me that only one look is beautiful.”     Alek Wek

Hairstyle New, Stop Press! I went Alek Wek, June Arunga and thousands of other short natural haired women – and did not even know I loved it till I turned and saw it in the mirror. Welcome to my chronicle of the big day, and the days since. Barber Black Sheep, Have you any wool? …three bags full. After my first haircut ever, I can believe that the barber could fill three or more bags of cut locks daily without a doubt.

Its summer and everyone knows that if you want to have a swimming heavy summer, all you have to do is have a maintenance free hairstyle. Having heard this call to dive in every summer that I have spent in the United States, I took myself, and the weather seriously and sought a haircut.

The Yellow Pages is Your Friend

So, I went into the Yellow Pages and searched for a good natural hair place to change over from the shoulder length hairdo I have sported for many years to a summer haircut. I called a few numbers, old school style, and settled on two shops, one to tend to my natural hair needs and the other to maintain a barber quality do thereafter. I live in Philadelphia, whose swanky South Street boasts Brownstone Natural Hair and Barber Studio, which is well known for making every client feel like a natural woman, and look it too. If you would like to schedule an appointment, these are booked up to a month in advance. The Studio is owner operated, and my stylist was one of the owners.

I went in and had a hair consultation with the resident natural stylist, who proceeded to shampoo my hair, and then picked up a shiny set of very hair-shop style scissors and relieve me of several inches of my hair. All the while I was peeking at myself in the mirror with one eye shut, this was totally new. To distract myself, I looked at what else the other patrons were getting done. One or two were having their locs retwisted, and others were having different shades of color included in their hair. I could only hear the snip snip of his scissors transforming my hair – much coaxed into many styles since I was a child, into this new do! After he was done, I looked in the mirror and went over to show my snoozing companion what I now looked like. It was amazing, I could have sworn it was a totally different person. Not someone I had seen, ever, but definitely a more familiar version of myself.

Barbershop and Me

So I called my buddy who has had a few haircuts, and asked for the male perspective on hair cuttery in this city. My concerned friend was hesitant, having seen me pour $$$ into my tresses, multiple times and did I realize that barbers were male? Undeterred, I sought a recommendation. After all, if you liked the barber, shouldn’t one return there and recommend others?  After days of asking for the name of his barber, my now-harassed friend finally yielded.

I did not know it took so long to share – I was used to the world of salons, where your hairstyle getting noticed was homage to your hairdresser and an invitation to share the address and name of your stylist. Apparently, this was a different world.   A map search of this site and a phone call later, I was in the train headed to this little Center City shop, and had my first hair cut, ever. Well, the first ever sans tears for lost tresses.

I willingly admit no small amount of hesitation. “How short did I want to get a hair cut?” “What does a breeze on the scalp even feel like?” I was curious. I have been to ladies hair salons for eons, since I can remember. I recall having my hair pulled every which direction, and teased, straightened, braided, de-tangled, fused, woven – you name it. But rarely does one go into a ladies hair care place and emerge with significantly shorter hair than before.


It was raining. The day of the second haircut, dubbed – “My very first haircut because it was done in a real barbershop”. I walked over to the shop and checked that the phone number on the door was the same one that I had used to call ahead and make an appointment. There was no taking chances.  I took a breath steeled myself, and walked in. It was smaller than my hair salon, minimally decorated and had excellent lighting. Still taking in the shop, I did not notice my new barber walk in right after I did. So shy was I.

He invited me to the chair. My mouth went dry, and the usually chatty me went silent for a little. I croaked my request. I said “Make it even!” All the while, I had I wondered inwardly, “What does one say to a barber, what kind of small talk do people in barbershops make?” Meanwhile, I silently hoped my time in the chair would end my utter puzzlement and get me to a better length and feel. Only later did I learn that there is a language about going to the Barbershop – like “Number 1, neat all round” which denotes a very close, neat shave.

In that moment, and that chair, I had not yet mastered Barbershop Slang – and was too focused on that moment. When had I ever sat so still in my life, just to be sure that I did not botch the cut, this time for myself.  I also looked at the brushes and shavers. It was hard to imagine what each one did. Would I ever get to know these tools as well as I did the tongs and dryers of my former life? I was not sure. If there were ever a more curious chica, it was me.

Half an hour and a healthy dose of WHYY public radio later, I had my new cut, and before I could say – hold the musk, the barber had sprayed some man-smelling hair spray all over my new do, stifling the wiles of my perfume. I was too stunned with my new look to notice this very much, and enjoyed paying the barber for this service. I hoped and waited and then, saw my face and head anew. I liked this.

Alek and company were not kidding. This is a great look, the compliments are flowing!


2 thoughts on “Barber To Beauty

  1. Seems this was an adventure and a half for you given the fact all that you knew were salons. Now ebu post a pic for the people…….

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